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Offseason Primers: Carolina Panthers

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Ron Rivera's first season as head coach in Carolina resulted in a 6-10 record, but there was plenty of optimism about a playoff run, in part because of the play of Cam Newton.

Instead, the team floundered early in Rivera's second season and finished with a 7-9 record, in part because of the play of Newton. Year 3 of the Rivera era could be the last in Carolina if the team doesn't post a winning record -- and you-know-who will be a huge factor.

2012 Touches Leaders
746 total touches (rush attempts + receptions)
DeAngelo Williams 186 (173 car., 13 rec.) 24.9%
Cam Newton 127 car. 17.0%
Jonathan Stewart 110 (93 car., 17 rec.) 14.8%
Mike Tolbert 81 (54 car., 27 rec.) 10.9%
Steve Smith 76 (73 rec., 3 car.) 10.2%
Greg Olsen 69 rec. 9.2%
Brandon LaFell 47 (44 rec., 3 car.) 6.3%
All Others 50 6.7%

The good news for Newton is that his play dramatically improved in the second half of the season, thanks to some tweaks in his game and a favorable schedule. He went from averaging a lousy 17.0 Fantasy points per game in his first seven games to 25.3 per game in his last nine. And for as big a deal as the Panthers' zone-read scheme was, he only scored on six such plays total (compared to 21 in a more standard formation). With many analysts believing defenses will have an answer for the zone-read in 2013, this should be viewed as good news.

And for the first time since his high school days, Newton will be in the same offensive scheme for the third straight year, albeit with a new play caller. Mike Shula replaces Rob Chudzinski as the Panthers offensive coordinator and he's expected to keep most if not all of Chudzinski's offense in place. While there might not be as much creativity as 'Chud' was able to infuse, it keeps Newton comfortable and confident, which is important as he continues to develop.

Newton already will enter 2013 with momentum from last year, but if the Panthers provide him with a good offensive line, he'll have the chance at some monster numbers. And the better he does, the better the Panthers will do. Newton could turn out to be a gem of a pick if he falls to the third round as many expect him to in Fantasy drafts.

DeAngelo Williams -- Offseason sleeper

2012 Target Leaders
490 pass attempts
Steve Smith 138 28.2%
Greg Olsen 104 21.2%
Brandon LaFell 76 15.5%
Louis Murphy 60 12.2%
Mike Tolbert 39 8.0%
Jonathan Stewart 23 4.7%
DeAngelo Williams 20 4.1%
All Others 30 6.1%

Let's be honest: No one's looking for Williams on Draft Day based on how he's done the last two years. He'll be on the wrong side of 30 when the season starts, his rushing average dipped on more carries in 2012 and it would have been practically a full yard lower than the 4.3 average he finished with if not for a 210-yard effort in a meaningless game at New Orleans in Week 17. But before you completely turn your back on Williams, know this: His usage has been a sizable factor in his production as he's failed to post big numbers in part because of a lack of opportunities. Here's proof: Williams has posted 10-plus Fantasy points in half of the 14 games with at least 12 carries he's had over the past three seasons. Make the magic number 13 carries and he's even more efficient, delivering 10-plus Fantasy points in 70 percent of his games. Now there are some fluky stats to help that number up (back-to-back games with 40-plus-yard touchdown receptions last year, for example), but he does not look slow nor does he display any significant decline in ability. If he gets the chance to escape Carolina and play with some consistency in an offense that doesn't let the quarterback hog goal-line work, there's potential for a 1,000-total-yard, eight-touchdown season.

Jonathan Stewart -- Sleeper

Expected 2013 Draft Averages
Cam Newton 20-30 overall
Steve Smith 65-75 overall
Jonathan Stewart 65-75 overall
DeAngelo Williams 75-90 overall
Greg Olsen 90-100 overall
Brandon LaFell Late-round pick
Mike Tolbert Late-round pick
Panthers DST Undrafted
Scenario A has the Panthers keeping DeAngelo Williams, muddying up what would otherwise be a delightful running back situation. Scenario B: The aforementioned delightful running back situation, where Williams is somewhere else and Stewart gets a decent amount of work every week. With a restructured contract in hand (proof the team wants him) and just 93 carries from a season ago, the 26-year-old stands to work as the primary rushing force in the Carolina offense. He was on his way there last year, getting 10-plus carries in six of nine games before hurting his ankle and ultimately having surgery. That's the same amount of 10-carry games he had in 2011, a sign the Panthers tried to lean on him more. There are obvious injury concerns with Stew but he's been a proven 1,000-total-yard guy in the past. The only catch would be touchdown production since he'd almost certainly lose out on goal-line work with Newton and Mike Tolbert in the fold. If Williams is out, Stewart should be in play as a 1,200-total-yard back, easily making him a worthy No. 3 running back.

Mike Tolbert -- Late-round flier

Aside from avoiding the Panthers running backs altogether, perhaps the best idea is to stick Tolbert on the back of your roster with a late pick. His first year in Carolina was gross -- only 54 carries, 27 receptions, 451 total yards and five of his seven touchdowns coming in the final three weeks of the season. But Tolbert split reps with two backs while seeing plenty of playing time as a fullback and a running back. If the Panthers send DeAngelo Williams packing, that should give Tolbert more touches. Throw in Jonathan Stewart's constant ankle and foot problems and one might envision Tolbert working as the full-time back at some point in 2012. At worst, an owner burns a late pick on Tolbert and dumps him after a couple of weeks. At best, Tolbert falls into a 15-touch role on a weekly basis. The risk in taking Tolbert late is low.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter @CBSFantasyFB . You can also follow Dave at @daverichard and on Facebook .

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Player News
LaRon Landry dealing with 'soft-tissue' injury
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/9/2014) Colts safety LaRon Landry missed voluntary workouts and mandatory minicamp with what the team called a "soft-tissue" injury, reports ESPN.com. He's coming off a disappointing first season in Indianapolis in which he made 87 tackles and no interceptions.

The website said the Colts need a big year from Landry after the departure of fellow safety Antoine Bethea.

"The thing with LaRon is and I know [coach] Chuck (Pagano) alluded to it, he's a guy that his throttle is always full-bore," general manager Ryan Grigson told the website. "He's out there in parts unknown working out. We trust him in the fact that we know he's going to go harder than anyone."


Marquise Goodwin ticketed for change-of-pace role
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/9/2014) The Bills view speedy receiver Marquise Goodwin as a change-of-pace option behind Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods and Mike Williams, according to WGR550.com. A former track star, Goodwin averaged 23.6 yards on his 17 receptions last year, scoring three touchdowns.

Mike Williams expected to be No. 3 receiver
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/9/2014) Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods are projected as the Bills' top two receivers, with Mike Williams expected to see the field in three-receiver sets, reports WGR550.com. Still, coaches view Williams "as a potential instant contributor and someone who could help EJ Manuel in both the red zone and as a player with high-pointing ability on all areas of the field," the report said.

Kendall Wright working out with Robert Griffin III
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/9/2014) Titans receiver Kendall Wright returned to Baylor to work out with his former college quarterback, the Redskins' Robert Griffin III, reports the Tennessean. Wright posted a picture of himself with Griffin and another former Baylor wideout, the Cowboys' Terrance Williams.

"Good grind session with my bros … where it all started at BU," wrote Wright, who caught 94 passes for 1,079 yards and two touchdowns last season.

Aaron Rodgers talks up tight end Richard Rodgers
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/9/2014) The Packers are unsettled at tight end, which means rookie Richard Rodgers could emerge as an option. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers certainly liked throwing to the 6-4, 257-pounder in the spring, and Richard Rodgers could be the starter "sooner rather than later," reports the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

"When we made the pick, some of the so-called experts on the draft channel said he was a late sixth-round pick ... which is pretty laughable when you watch the talent he's got and the ability," Aaron Rodgers said. "You have to be excited about his body type and the hands.

"He's made some incredible catches, makes it look easy. I think he's going to push for some playing time if he can transfer what he's done in the spring now to the fall and have the potential to be an impact player."

Richard Rodgers ran a 4.87 forty coming out of California, two-tenths of a second slower than Jermichael Finley ran back in 2008, and often lined up in the slot in college, the paper said.


Jermichael Finley still hoping to return to Packers
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/9/2014) Free agent tight end Jermichael Finley told ESPN.com he's working as hard as he can to return to the Packers. While Finley said this is the best he's felt "during this entire crazy process," he has yet to be cleared by team doctors.

Finley underwent neck fusion surgery last fall.


Ryan Kerrigan planning to stay with Redskins long-term
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/9/2014) Redskins outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan is under contract through 2015 after the team picked up his option. The 2011 first-round pick envisions staying in Washington beyond that.

"I’ve worked hard these past few years to be the best I can for the team and for the organization," he told the Muncie Star Press of Indiana. "I’m going to be a part of it for at least an additional year and hopefully after that, even longer."

Kerrigan has 24.5 sacks over his first three years.


Byron Bell, Nate Chandler competing for left tackle job
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/9/2014) With Jordan Gross' retirement, the Panthers will have a new left tackle in 2014. The team's website says the competition is between Byron Bell, who started 14 games at right tackle last year, and Nate Chandler, who started six games at guard and two at right tackle.

Chandler is a converted defensive lineman who went undrafted out of UCLA in 2012.


Baylor coach wants to help Josh Gordon
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/9/2014) Baylor coach Art Briles told Sirius XM NFL Radio he wants to help troubled Browns receiver Josh Gordon, a former Baylor standout who's staring at a long suspension by the NFL.

"Everybody’s different in the world and that’s what makes it so unique and everybody’s got special talents and gifts," Briles said. "Josh certainly has a tremendous amount of physical talent and intellectual gifts. We all just hope and pray that he’ll be able to get through everything and finally reach his full potential. The thing about Josh that’s so unique is he’s still young, he just turned 23. His future is ahead. He’s going to be judged by everything that’s happened, but he still has a great future ahead and that’s the way he needs to approach the situation. When you’re in our family, you’re always in so we’ll do whatever we can do to help him be successful in his life."


Shawn Lauvao trying to fit in with Redskins
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/9/2014) Redskins guard Shawn Lauvao is adjusting well to his new team, offensive line coach Chris Foerster said. Lavao came over from the Browns and is expected to start at left guard next to Trent Williams.

"He got better every day," Foerster said of Lauvao's work at mandatory minicamp and OTAs. "It was all new to him. He needs to get out there and play. He’s more of a practice guy; he needs to be out there doing it.

"Trent [Williams] can make a lot of guys look good when they play next to him. He’s doing a good job with Shawn teaching him how to do things and [Lauvao] made huge strides from voluntary minicamp."


 
 
 
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